Leftover Cuties: Austin Nicholsen Interview

The Leftover Cuties hit it big when Game Called Life was used as the theme tune to The Big C. Last week they released their debut album Place to Go (which they kindly sent me). If you liked Game Called Life, I highly recommend you pick it up. It’s the same winning combination of instant pop melodies and jazzy setting.

My favourite aspect of the album is how comfortably the ukulele sits in the band. All the tracks on the album feature backing of the classic ukulele-upright bass pairing (along with occasional other uke-friendly instruments: brass, accordion and a smattering of stylophone). I think we’re all familiar with records that announce, “Hey, look at me, I’m playing this on a ukulele,” but here it’s used much more naturally and, therefore, pleasingly.

They’re giving away the albums title track. Grab it on this doodad or on their website:

Ukulele Cutie, Austin Nicholsen generously agreed to field a few of my questions:

How did you first get into playing the ukulele? And what made you stick with it?

I had recently purchased an upright bass and thought it would be silly to pick up the smallest string instrument at that point. I thought violin, ukulele…. ukulele it is! I walked around with it for a few days playing and trying make it sound like it was remotely in tune. Then i realized, this thing is beat. Years went by and I picked it up again and that is when it really started to resonate with me. Success! The ukulele is AWESOME! Looking back at my first encounters with the uke i realized i wasn’t ready for the awesome power of this wonderful little instrument yet.

How did you go about building a band around the ukulele? What did you have to consider?

I showed up at my good friend Shirli’s house in the middle of the night with the ukulele. I guess she had never seen one before then and didn’t know what to make of it. I don’t think she even thought it was a real instrument. Anyhow I started playing a chord progression I had been strumming on and Shirli pulled out a napkin that she had earlier wrote some lyrics on while she was working. We recorded a rough demo the next day and then it was buried for a couple of years. Little did we know that this was the beginning of something far greater than we could ever conceive at the time.

Years later Shirli stumbled across that little demo and felt something special within that little song “Game Called Life”. She played it for some friends and family and the reviews came flooding in, people wanted more of this magic. We did some more bootleg demos and people were stoked! Shortly following the band name came and we were off and running. It was time for this little seed to grow. We decided it was time for higher quality recordings. We met with a great man named Ryan Hewitt who recorded and produced our EP and he said you’re going to need drums if you want to sell records. One man came to my mind for this musical adventure, Stuart Johnson. One of the greatest and most musical drummers in the world without a doubt.

Next came the proper low end bass player, Ryan Feves. A great man who in my mind is a world class bassists, amazing feel and tone that warms your insides. The family kept growing, it took a bit before we found the missing piece but it was worth the wait. Mike Bolger, what can’t the guy do. I mean really, he plays piano, accordion, all brass and who knows what else. But get this he can play them at the same time, that’s right piano in left hand, trumpet in right. I believe this guy has been on a million recordings, maybe more. Oh yeah and he really smokes a mean BBQ, grille master extraordinaire! No consideration when it all started because the uke was the foundation.

What’s in your ukulele collection? Any favourites?

My main uke is an old Kamaka pineapple uke, my guess is 1930 or 31, # 5416 9 – maybe someone out there can help determine the year. I hold this uke near and dear to my heart, I have picked up few ukes that can even come close to the tonal quality.

Also have a label free soprano uke with great tone but chunky fretts, still cool though. And an old soprano supertone from Sears Roebuck and Co. from maybe the 40’s, very fragile little mahogany uke with a cheerful tone. A cookie tin uke that i frankensteined together using a banjolele neck that would never ever stay in tune no matter what and a holiday cookie tin with a wreath on it. An old May bell banjolele from the early 1930’s. A Cigar box uke that I ripped the neck off my first label free Chinese uke for, kind-of dead sounding. A Tahitian uke with fishing line for strings ( a bit bitty ) and last but not least, also not really a ukelele, an old Wurlitzer Tiple made by C.F. Martin from the late 20’s.

The pineapple takes the cake!!!!! Every time

As well as a love of ukes, we’re both enthusiastic cap wearers. What do you look for a good cap?

Comfort and versatility.

What can we expect to hear from the Leftover Cuties in the future?

Who knows what’s in store for us, the sky’s the limit! I am pushing for some remixes on this album. Also there is a lot of great new material on the burner already!

And an entirely selfish question: any plans to visit the UK?

Absolutely!!!!! Some day for sure – hopefully soon.

Visit LeftoverCuties.com. Buy the album on iTunes.

View Comments


  1. Sunny Jim June 6th, 2011 8:24 pm

    Thanks for the heads up on these Al. I agree with you point re. how it’s refreshing to see a band where the ukulele is an integral part of the sound without being a gimmick. Cheers, Jim

  2. Woodshed June 7th, 2011 12:27 am

    Sunny Jim: Glad you like!

  3. Ron Hale June 8th, 2011 6:15 am

    Well, I’m a fan. A visit to their YouTube channel – leftovercuties – is recommended. Once there, perhaps start with “Meet the Leftover Cuties” for an overview.

    But you’re not allowed to leave without taking in the glory of their cover of Poker Face. The music video is a must, the live version is just icing on an already delicious cake. Every inch as epic as Danielle’s Bad Romance. And if people haven’t seen that, they’ve been remiss in their viewing and should remedy this lapse, and pronto.

    So, are you back to interviewing, Al?

  4. Woodshed June 8th, 2011 10:01 am

    Ron: Probably not. Two interviews I wanted to do rolled around at the same time. But I’m not planning on it being a regular thing again.

  5. Dan June 10th, 2011 9:00 pm

    I bought their new album and it has been on repeat on my listening device since Monday.

  6. Woodshed June 10th, 2011 11:10 pm

    Dan: Glad to hear it! Hope you’ve been enjoying it.

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